Second Reading

Resumed from 15 August.

HON MICHAEL MISCHIN (North Metropolitan — Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [ 6.09 pm ]: I rise to indicate the opposition’s support for the Child Support (Adoption of Laws) Amendment Bill 2017. I have nothing to add to what has been said in the second reading debate. The opposition supports its swift passage and its proclamation. I trust that it will not be delayed by the sort of unnecessary and extended debate by which government members in the other place contributed to its taking some three hours to pass in that other forum.

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [ 6.10 pm ]: I rise on behalf of the Greens to indicate that the Greens will be supporting the Child Support (Adoption of Laws) Amendment Bill 2017. The commonwealth child support scheme was set up to ensure that parents who had separated provided financial support to their children on an equitable basis. In this context, only the commonwealth Parliament has the constitutional power to legislate with respect to children of a marriage. For the scheme to apply to married and unmarried couples and their children, state Parliaments need to either refer the legislative power to the commonwealth or they need to adopt the commonwealth legislation. I note that all states except Western Australia have referred the legislative power on this matter to the commonwealth. I note that it is possibly about time that WA joined the other states in referring that power in the future. We have chosen not to refer it to the commonwealth and instead we adopt the commonwealth acts. That means that every time the acts are amended by the commonwealth, we have to subsequently amend our own state acts. Because the adoption of laws is not prospective, every time there is an amendment to the commonwealth legislation that governs child support, those amendments do not apply to exnuptial children — children who are born outside of a marriage — until the laws are adopted through amendments to WA’s legislation.

I note that the last amendments were passed by WA in November 2015, and I have also spoken to similar amendments prior to that. The current changes made since then and the bill that we are dealing with today relates to updates in some terminology so the commonwealth Courts Administration Legislation Amendment Act 2016 has amended the commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 by changing titles such as Chief Judge of the Family Court to Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Judge of the Family Court to Deputy Chief Justice. A consequential amendment was to make these total changes where required in the commonwealth and state support acts. The commonwealth Statute Law Revision Act 2016 made a number of technical amendments to both the commonwealth child support acts to correct cross - references and a typographical error and to modernise the language. The commonwealth Civil Law and Justice (Omnibus Amendments) Act 2015 amended the commonwealth Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 consequential upon minor technical amendments to the operation of the commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975. These changes were to governance arrangements to Norfolk Island. I asked how many children were likely to be affected by that. I understand that that data is not necessarily readily available but nevertheless that is what it does, and it extends the operation of the child support scheme to the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Residents of Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are now defined as residents of Australia for the purposes of the scheme. I think that is positive. It is certainly positive for those children.

I note that the commonwealth Australian Immunisation Register Act was passed in 2015. This act relates to the provision of immunisation for children and the way in which vaccinations are recorded and defined as a designated program in the child support legislation.

With these changes today, the Child Support (Adoption of Laws) Amendment Bill 2017 will adopt the commonwealth acts as they stand on 1 July 2016. We are talking about more than a year of delay. That is partly due to adoption by a state Parliament not being able to occur until after the commonwealth amendments have come into operation. I would suggest that Western Australians — specifically Western Australian children — are disadvantaged by these sorts of delays. Although on the one hand it is good that the WA Parliament has the opportunity to consider these changes before they are made, the reality is that, in effect, we are really limited in the power we have to amend or review them. WA is not at liberty to pick and choose between different amendments or parts of the act, and we generally simply adopt the act in its entirety that reflects any changes made up to a given point in time. Again, I urge this government to consider the benefit of referring our powers with regard to child support, and indicate that if this government chooses to adopt that measure, the Greens will heartily support it.

The last time I considered similar legislation it had been referred to the Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Statutes Review for consideration. That committee is no longer required to look at this type of legislation. When the Child Support (Adoption of Laws) Amendment Bill 2012 — the one I spoke on — was referred to the committee, the committee determined that as the bill did not change the uniform scheme adopted by the principal act, implement an additional uniform scheme, or implement a further separate intergovernmental agreement, it did not feel the impact upon the sovereignty and the lawmaking powers of the Parliament beyond the impact of the principal act. As such, it did not require ongoing scrutiny by the committee. The committee noted that previously it would have considered the provisions of the bill against the fundamental legislative scrutiny principles; however, under the then terms of reference, such scrutiny was beyond the committee’s mandate. It strikes me that if we are not going to scrutinise this legislation in detail through the committee process, and indeed if we have, as I say, limited ability to make any changes to it anyway in this place, it seems that, again, it would be wise to consider referring these powers, as other states have, to the commonwealth to ensure that we have more timely rectification of any inequities between the treatment of children born within a legally recognised marriage and children who are not.

This bill will ensure that children from all types of families and the many different ways in which they are raised and loved are treated equally and have the same rights to child support. As people know, the Greens are passionate about equality for all families and believe that all people are entitled to respect and dignity and to receive the full protection of the law, regardless of their marital state or, indeed, their sexuality. It is particularly important that children are not treated differently or subjected to discriminatory conduct because of the nature of their parents’ relationship. The commonwealth Constitution gives the commonwealth Parliament exclusive powers to make laws on marriage, which obviously has not only implications for child support, as with the bill before us, but also broader implications. The commonwealth Parliament is the only Parliament that has the power to amend the definition of marriage, so it would seem that the most appropriate place to have the national debate on marriage equality is in the commonwealth Parliament. I once again want to say how much I wish that that was occurring within our Parliament, rather than through any other mechanisms.

I close by reaffirming the importance of the child support scheme in ensuring that parents are contributing on an equitable basis to raising their own children, regardless of the nature of the marriage or relationship from which those children have arisen. Prior to the implementation of the child support scheme, child support could be obtained only by parents who went through long, drawn-out and often quite volatile proceedings within the Family Court system. Quite simply, the financial cost of raising children should never be left up to just one parent.

With those comments, I say again that I would love it if these bills did not have to come to this state Parliament anymore because we had referred these powers to the commonwealth, as every other state has done, and children in Western Australia were no longer being disadvantaged. The Greens support the legislation.

The PRESIDENT: I give the call to Hon Colin Tincknell , but noting the time, I interrupt the debate to take members’ statements.

Debate adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.


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